Thomas Eugene Bradford is a “hothead” who shot Raymond V. Lee after an argument, according to the prosecution’s opening statement in a murder trial Tuesday.
Bradford, 43, was acting out of “self-preservation,” fearing that Lee knew martial arts, the defense countered.
Testimony began Tuesday in the trial of Bradford, who is accused of shooting Lee, 38, at the Reed Creek Water Pollution and Control plant in Martinez on April 1.
“This is not self-defense,” Assistant District Attorney Geoffrey Fogus said. “This is not an accident. It is anger and having a gun.”
Authorities say Bradford, a driver for Thomson-based Hudsons Grassing Co. Inc., was trying to pick up a trailer loaded with sludge when he and Lee argued over Bradford’s allegation that the trailer was overloaded.
Bradford called 911 and waited at the scene until he was arrested. The 911 tape was played in court Tuesday.
“There was an altercation,” Bradford told the dispatcher. “It got out of hand.”
In May, Bradford was indicted for murder and possession of a firearm during the commission of a crime. He pleaded not guilty to those charges in June.
Witnesses including plant lead operator Richard Haygood and plant employee Andrew Lasure, who had only been working there a week, testified Tuesday that they saw the two arguing. They also said they saw the pair fight before Bradford shot Lee in the chest with a handgun.
Bradford’s attorney, Victor Hawk, highlighted inconsistencies in their stories, which changed between written and recorded statements with police the day of the shooting and interviews with Hawk’s investigator months later. One of the inconsistencies is whether there was a second fight before the shooting.
Hawk claimed Bradford wasn’t looking for a fight, but panicked because he thought Lee knew martial arts.
“When Thomas Bradford pulled the gun, it was in a panic, out of self-preservation,” Hawk said in his opening statement.
Hawk also contended that Lee intentionally overloaded sludge onto Bradford’s trailers and provoked the argument.
“Lee set up a dangerous confrontation and he was accidentally and tragically killed,” Hawk said.
Testimony is expected to resume at 10 a.m. today. Attorneys will first question a man Hawk expects to present as an expert witness specializing in visual perception and factors affecting it. After finding out his background, Superior Court Judge J. David Roper will rule whether he can testify as an expert.
Hawk said Bradford plans to testify in his own defense.
The trial is expected to continue Thursday and possibly Friday.